The truth about fairy-tale love
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“Happily ever after is not a fairy tale. It’s a choice.”
— Fawn Weaver
Who doesn’t enjoy a good love story?
Romeo and Juliet. Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. Rose and Jack. Lancelot and Guinevere. Ross and Rachel. We become emotionally invested in those characters, rooting for their union.
These tales resonate, because we see ourselves in them. The longing and desire for our one true love is universal. We crave passionate, soul-stirring love; a bond that can elevate us to heights of ecstasy. Romantic stories offer us a portal to experience these emotions vicariously.
Buying into this picture-perfect take on love, however, can land us in hot water. What seems like harmless escapism influences our expectations of relationships and partners.
It’s hard to undo beliefs that are embedded in our minds from a young age. In childhood, we sang nursery rhymes like “Jack and Jill,” we read bedtime stories like “The Frog Prince,” and watched movies about chivalrous knights rescuing damsels in distress.
A Cinderella perspective on relationships disempowers us. It makes us believe that we need someone else to make us happy. There’s no mention of the heartbreak, struggle, and loneliness we must experience and learn from before finally meeting someone we want to be with.
No one tells us that idealized tales of romance leave out the hard facts of adult life. We don’t see what happens after the first blush of love fades away, and the couples begin building a life together—two imperfect beings, with pains and triggers, coming together to make a relationship work.
Breaking the spell begins with the realization that a fairy tale is just that: “a children’s story about magical and imaginary beings and lands.” Its purpose is to offer pleasure and a reprieve from reality. It should not be used as a template for couples trying to navigate the complexities of life.
No one has a perfect relationship. Not even the glamorous celebrity couples we see on glossy magazine covers, who seem to have it all. When we fail to keep this in mind, we set ourselves up for disappointment. The good news is that with a healthy dose of skepticism, we can avoid the devastation of unmet romantic expectations.
I’m not saying you must become a hardcore realist and let go of your ideals. Healthy skepticism means accepting the inherent risks (like getting your heart broken and meeting partners who don’t meet you halfway) on the journey to finding genuine love. This skepticism insulates you from becoming jaded and settling for less than you deserve.
We can preserve the magic of love while taking away the illusion of perfection. By keeping the aspiration of romantic love, but taking away the delusion, we allow ourselves to bask in the pure joy of giving and receiving love. This also allows us to accept the mundane routines of everyday life. We will learn to relish the company of our partners while learning the art of managing conflict.
If you’re single, cultivate romance as a way of existing. Treat yourself by soaking in a warm bath, buy yourself flowers, indulge in a decadent piece of chocolate, eat breakfast in bed in your silk pajamas, and watch the sunrise with the dawn.
When soul love is active and awake in you, you will effortlessly attract relationships based on connection and chemistry. Romancing yourself is the gateway to carriage rides, roses, wine, and beach walks with that special someone. Fairy-tale love begins with owning your value. It exists inside you and is worth believing in and fighting for, but it’s only you who can keep that dream alive.
Here are four ways to balance your expectations of fairy tale love:
1. Have high aspirations, but be willing to put in the work: After you pass the delirium that characterizes the early stages of love, be ready to roll up your sleeves and put in some effort. Anticipating and preparing for bumps on the road is realistic and sensible. Perfect love that leads to the healing of both partners will be full of conflict and confrontation. To get through this requires empathy, thoughtfulness, vulnerability, honesty, and healthy compromise. These qualities are the foundation that supports couples through tough times.
2. Don’t let your relationship define you, let it complement you: There’s no doubt that your life will change when you meet someone to share it with. While you must make room for them to be part of it, you have to know where to draw the line. When we’re besotted with someone new, most of us are eager for the world to know how happy we are and acknowledge the significance of that person in our lives. Yet there’s a big difference between being enthusiastic about love and being obsessed with it. Too many starry-eyed lovers lose themselves in their romances and let go of what defines them. Sooner or later, they become resentful about the sacrifices they made to accommodate the other.
3. Strive to see the best in your partner, without rose-colored glasses: In your eyes, your partner will be a vision of perfection—a flawless creature untouched by the ugliness and the evils of the world. This fairy tale outlook makes us project our expectations onto our beloved and turn a blind eye to the flaws and red flags that could cause problems further down the line. Yes, you want to see your person in a good light and appreciate their positive traits, but if we are to experience unconditional love, we must acknowledge their imperfections as well. Only then can we decide whether we choose to be with them and work through the differences.
4. Know that your happiness is ultimately your responsibility: A person who can stand on their own always makes a better partner. Develop the awareness to know what you need to feel balanced and self-sufficient and be willing to do what it takes to meet those needs. Whether it’s paying off your mortgage, dealing with past trauma by working with a therapist, or starting a passion project—those are your responsibilities. A partner cannot give you what only you can give yourself. Expecting them to do so burdens the connection and leads to tension and disappointment. In the cake of self-love, a romantic partner should be the icing.
A modern-day fairy tale is where both individuals feel loved and respected. The passion between them activates them to seek purpose beyond their everyday life. It influences them to become better people, make healthier choices, and work together to bring more harmony, peace, and beauty into the spaces they grace with their presence.
Reprinted with permission. Check out Seline Shenoy’s blog and podcasts @ selineshenoy.com.
This article originally appeared in the March 12, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.